I’ve been a dyslexic my entire life, but I never knew it. I struggled greatly through Preschool, Elementary school, Middle school, High school, and several years of college until finally someone noticed. That seems crazy right? And get this, it wasn’t even a teacher that finally caught it, but rather it was my wife, who was tutoring me when I went back to school at 30. At that point in my life, I had been in and out of college for years, but hadn’t made good enough grades to even get my Associate’s degree. My tutor/wife saw me spending hours on school, studying and working on homework hours longer than I should have, and failing. “Something doesn’t add up,” she told me. “Your effort is not reflected in your GPA. We need to get you tested.” So we did, and found out that I had pretty severe dyslexia. Now remember, I received this diagnosis at 30. My whole life, no teacher had ever dug down deep enough to find out why I was having so much trouble reading, or why I acted up instead of doing my schoolwork. As an Educator, looking back at Little Albert, this is heartbreaking to me. I truly believe my teachers passed me because they liked my personality, or worse, because they didn’t want to have to deal with me for another year. I graduated high school reading at a 3rd grade level. No one told me, and I had no idea I was different than everyone else.
When I first received my diagnosis, I was not sure how to react. I thought the diagnostician was calling me stupid. After listening to my diagnosis a few times, (we recorded the session, because I knew I would forget what he said) I realized that I wasn’t stupid, I just read differently than other people. My brain was different, that was okay. I wasn’t disabled, but rather differently abled, and after receiving the right accommodations, not only have I excelled in school, as of this past May, I graduated with my Masters in Education with Honors. This year, I wrote Dyslexia is my Superpower, a children’s book that takes you into a day in the life of Little Albert, who has a pretty severe reaction to circle time reading, only to find out that he has Dyslexia. In the book, an engaging teacher named Mrs. Miller points out that just because I read differently, I have some pretty incredible strengths in other areas. Little Albert had trouble reading, so he had to develop strong problem solving and observation skills, as well as empathy for other children who struggled. Mrs. Miller helped Little Albert to realize that Dyslexia was his Superpower, and that he did not have to be ashamed of being different, and as Educators, we have the chance every day to empower our “differently abled” children in the same way, using the following steps.
As a trainer, I teach that we have to pay attention and dig deeper. Every behavior means something, and it is our job to dig past the seemingly difficult behavior to see if there is a deeper need that isn’t being met. If more adults around me had the ability and insight to look long enough to look at my work, I have to believe that they might have seen some early warning sign. You are the expert in your field; don’t rely on parents to tell you of problems they see. Don’t diagnose, but if you see red flags, document them, and talk to your director, and then the parents. If you can discern a potential problem early, the child has the potential to receive remediation from an early age, rather than trying to catch up later.
Also, I like to remind teachers not to label the children as disabled. That word can have such a negative connotation. If you see the children as “differently abled,” you can help the one’s who may feel discouraged, recognize strengths they might not even know they possess. Including all children in all activities should become a challenge, not an obstacle. Just because you have to have accommodations in your lesson plan, don’t think that differences in learning styles are burdens. We our educators, it’s our job to be creative, to reach the child that everyone else has deemed unreachable. To achieve this, we have to begin having a strengths perspective. We have to look for abilities rather than deficits, and see the child with potential, instead of pathology. Committing to empowering our children will bring about a relational learning that focuses on the ability of our children to grow, to learn, to continue to change, and using this method will keep them from getting stuck in a disability pigeonhole.
Don’t forget to share resources. If you see warning signs, and have spoken with your peers and believe it would be helpful to engage the parents, please make sure to share resources for finding help as early as possible. Just remember, things like this can catch a parent off guard, so make sure to be gentle in your delivery, and don’t take it personally if a parent needs space to process. You might be speechless if someone told you information about your child that had the potential to be life altering, so be kind, and have resources ready for finding help.
Above all else, inclusion should never be seen as something to do when you have time. Inclusion is a necessity for every subject, every classroom, and every facility. True change can happen when we work together, considering our children’s strengths, perception, and especially their aspirations. Our children are not their diagnoses. Dyslexia is my Superpower is my way of rewriting history, of showing how I wished a teacher had engaged Little Albert, to help him find the strength within.